In the 225 years since the first US election was held in 1789, just 10 sitting presidents have been beaten at the polls in their re-election bids.
Muhammadu Buhari’s defeat of Goodluck Jonathan in Nigeria’s presidential election was just one among over 20 such defeats of sitting presidents or prime ministers at the ballot box in Africa, excluding the losses by interim or acting leaders over the last 50 years.
In a continent often associated with strongmen who would do anything to stay in power, the fact that nearly two dozen elections had resulted in peaceful handovers of power surprised many.
While the focus tends to be on Africa, the reality is that the power of incumbency is difficult (in fact it is easier in Africa than other continents) to beat the world over. In the 225 years since the first US election was held in 1789, just 10 sitting presidents have been beaten at the polls in their re-election bids.
Seven others declined to run, while five tried but failed to win their party’s nomination, and so dropped out of the race.
In South America, between 1946 and 1983, six countries – Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Ecuador, Uruguay and Venezuela – saw at least 18 presidents kicked out of office at the ballot box. If you include Central American countries like Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic, the number shoots up to 27.
In fact, between 1958 and 1982, Costa Rica voted in a new leader at every election, with the exception of 1974.
But for the past thirty years, the trend of changing presidents and ruling parties at every poll is firmly in the past. In all of Central and South America, not a single incumbent president has lost a re-election bid since 1980, with the exception of Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua and Hipolito Meja in the Dominican Republic.
Asia, too, has seen few losses by incumbent. India has voted out five prime ministers at the ballot, starting with Indira Gandhi in 1977, and then her son Rajiv Gandhi in 1989.
Iran has not seen a single loss by incumbent since it began its version of “guided democracy” in 1979.
Pakistan has also had five prime ministers defeated at the polls, but it is an interesting case because in three of those instances, the usurper has been Nawaz Shariff, who is actually the current prime minister, now serving his third term.
Perhaps African presidents like Pierre Nkurunziza of Burundi, Alassane Ouattara of Cote d’Ivoire, and Faure Eyadema of Togo can ask Shariff for tips on how to be a comeback kid. But knowing Africa, they probably already know what to do.
Originally posted 2016-04-03 11:42:48.